Gene Jackson’s new album, “The Jungle,” has plenty of songs with the subjects you’d expect a soul singer to tackle: falling in love, the heartbreak from love, realizing “right now you can’t trust anybody,” as he puts it.
Then there’s a song ripped from the headlines: “Vaccine.”
“Where is the vaccine/I don’t know/COVID-19,” he sings.
Jackson wrote the song before regulators approved any vaccines to treat the coronavirus. And ironically, he has yet to get his shot. (He said he’s scheduled an appointment for later this month.) But his life is a testament to its importance. He contracted COVID-19 late last year, and was pretty sure it was going to kill him.
“It didn’t hit my breathing, it hit my nervous system, to the point where I thought I was going to die, seriously,” Jackson, 61, explained on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air. “It took three weeks to get myself together.”
Looking back, he said, one of the hardest parts was staying away from performing. “As a singer, every weekend I’m somewhere. It’s like locking yourself up in a jail cell,” he said of quarantine.
Now fully recovered, Jackson is back to performing regular gigs at Hammerstone’s and 1860 Saloon in Soulard. He’s also featured this Friday as part of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation’s Open Air concert series at The Grandel.
A St. Louis native, Jackson grew up singing. His mother, Mary Coleman, sang with Ike and Tina Turner, the Shirelles and others. She encouraged her son’s gift, and he gained experience singing in the Mt. Gideon Missionary Baptist Church. By 15, he was booking gigs (his mother, he said, had to sign a waiver).
“I seen a lot, but I never smoked, I never drank,” he said. “I still don’t smoke, and I still don’t drink. … I hear people, they gotta get stoned to do a show, they gotta drink to do a show. It’s not necessary. Open mind is a clear mind, and you maybe remember your words and the things you have to do at a show to make it right for people.”
Released in December, “The Jungle” is just his second album. As for its ripped-from-the-headlines track about the COVID-19 vaccine, its singer is happy that his plea functions as something of a nostalgia piece.
“I kept saying, ‘We need to get this out, because they’re going to have a vaccine by the time the record comes out,’” he recalled. “It’s a song that’s going to be around, regardless if we do have a vaccine. It’s something to listen to; the music is great, and the vocals, as far as the words, I took it right out of the press.”
What: Open Air Concert Series featuring Gene Jackson
When: 6 p.m. & 8 p.m., Friday, April 9, 2021
Where: The Grandel, 3610 Grandel Sq., St. Louis, MO 63103
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.